The first two games of the 2019-2020 playoffs didn’t go as expected for the Oklahoma City Thunder. After a terrible performance in game one, OKC stayed in the game for three quarters in game two, before letting the game slip away due to some questionable coaching-players decisions. The series is not over, but if nothing changes starting with the next game, the Thunder season might be over by Monday with a humiliating 4-0.
Loss – Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets: 108-123
Loss – Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets: 98-111
BILLY DONOVAN NEEDS TO DO A BETTER JOB
Game one: Donovan played different line ups to check on who he could have counted on and who not. In a blink of an eye, the Rockets ran away, and OKC had to look ahead for game two. Game two had a slightly better game plan, but then Donovan somehow took some questionable decisions that might have turned the game in Houston’s direction. An example: playing Nader at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth in place of SGA, while the second-year player was having a career night. SGA sat for almost six minutes at the end of the third quarter until the start of the fourth. Donovan didn’t challenge a blocking foul on Dort (which was an obvious offensive foul on Harden). However, he went on and charged a questionable inbound decision (which the referees deny and gave the ball to the rockets). Rotations, which I will talk about in the next point, were also a reason for concern. Donovan coached the hell out of this team during the season, he and the coaching staff have to figure out a way to maximize this roster against Houston.
IMPROVE THE ROTATIONS
Where should we start? Well, first of all, let’s forget about game one because it felt like an experimenting rotation night for Donovan if that makes sense. He played eleven guys (thirteen in total but Nader and Burton played the garbage time), on a playoff game with this roster. No need to add more. Secondly, if your game plan is not to feed your skilled big man in the post, aka Steven Adams, what’s the point on playing him? The way the Rockets are playing on offense takes away Steven’s ability to defend the paint, and therefore him being out on defense on the three-point line is pretty much useless. The same goes for Noel, who isn’t as versatile as Adams. Another point: why is Nader playing in the fourth quarter of a close playoff game? Don’t get me wrong, Nader didn’t do much wrong, he only took away minutes from SGA, who was having a great game. Why is Muscala not playing at the five? He can shoot threes, can open the floor, and create space for the guards to attack. Why isn’t Gallinari playing at the five? He can score over any player on the Rockets (he showed it in the first two games). When you have Gallo at the five, you can play your three guards line-up plus Dort on Harden. Why is not Bazley playing at the five? You could have this line up: SGA – CP3/Dennis – Dort – Gallo – Bazely. Space and shooting. The best players have to play more minutes. It’s the playoff, nobody is tired or needs rest. Grind it out and change the game plan if this means to have a chance of reopening the series.
DENNIS SCHRÖDER, IT’S WAKE UP TIME
In a team sport, it’s never fair to point fingers at a single-player performance. However, the way Schröder played the game in the last minutes of the third quarter, and at the start of the last one, cost the Thunder game two. Every time the ball went in his hands, the game flow stopped. He just dribbled and attacked a packed Rocket’s defense. That’s the reason why he probably went 0-4 from the floor and had four turnovers in this short span. The Rockets took advantage of it on the other side of the court. Dennis has been a key player in Oklahoma City’s success this year, a candidate for the sixth man of the year, but the Thunder are missing him in the most important games of the year.
LU DORT’S IMPACT
If game two showed us something, it’s that Oklahoma City missed Lu Dort in the first matchup. As crazy as it sounds, it’s the reality. A rookie on a two-way contract all season long was one of the keys that allowed the Thunder to stop James Harden. Dort played an outstanding game guarding Harden. He was physical, smart, aggressive, and battled on every possession on the defensive end. On offense, Lu finished with eight points and didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (3-10 FG, 2-8 3PT), but he didn’t shy away from the action.
No matter how this year ends for the Thunder, these first two playoffs games showed us, if we didn’t already know, that Oklahoma City has a bright future ahead. After a terrible game one, SGA bounced back and played an outstanding game two. He scored thirty-one points (9-17 FG, 3-7 3PT, 10-11 FT) while showing so much personality and leadership. As mentioned above, Dort is already a solid defender, he has so much potential to improve still on both ends of the floor, and he is a rookie contract. Another great surprise is Darius Bazley. He is quietly showing that he can be a top-class player and, he is not shying away in his first two playoff games. Bazley is averaging 15.6 minutes, 6.0 points (44.4% FG, 57.1% 3PT on 3.5 attempts per game), and 6.0 rebounds.